A photo of Lee B. Thomas, Jr.

Lee B. Thomas, Jr.

Louisville, Kentucky, USA


On August the 6th in 1945 I was on landing craft manpower headed for the invasion of Japan. I was going to die. I knew it. At 2 o’clock that afternoon, we were invited down into the hold of the ship to listen to the news of the bomb. It saved our lives. We had a hell of a party. We all got snookered. As soon as the surrender was signed, they put us on a train. I think the train went directly to Hiroshima, but I’m not sure. I know I was in Hiroshima when it was still warm. So we are talking weeks, at most after the atomic bomb. The few people left, this I can remember vividly, made lean-to shelters and they poked holes in the water mains on the corners— they put wooden pegs in it then took the peg out to get some water. Of course it was all radioactive. None of us knew it. I wasn’t there very long so while I’ve taken precautions—the dentist doesn’t take pictures of my teeth—but I didn’t have any radiation damage that I know of. I made it to 80 years old so it looks like it’s OK. So I didn’t really suffer, except spiritually...seeing what happened to people. All of the hate films that we saw were false. We’d been lied to by our own government—because they’re people [the Japanese]. And I can still remember it vividly as if it were yesterday. An old Japanese gentleman came out to wish me bon voyage because I was going home.

Daniel’s Reflection

Lee Thomas is the one business executive I have ever met with pictures of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi on the wall of his office! Lee Thomas is a Quaker who committed his life to non-violence after personally witnessing what was left of Hiroshima one month after the dropping of the atomic bomb. Lee’s story is one of personal transformation from being a young, scared soldier who took part in the party on board his ship once they heard about the dropping of the bomb...to a mature but confused young man who came home searching for truth after feeling his own government had lied to him.

The lesson that I learned from interviewing Lee is that I must be willing to question authority and discern the truth, especially when it comes to the treatment of fellow human beings, or I cannot truly say I am on a spiritual journey.  

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